Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

What Does The Church Need To Do For You?

I really liked this Elizabeth Duffy post, responding to some proposals that since Church teachings on birth control can result in larger families, the Church needs to "follow through" by providing more services to overwhelmed young moms. This section sums things up nicely, but the entire post is very much worth reading:
I think we fall into the same trap when we make demands of the Church, holding that wherever I have a vested interested, the Church must meet my needs. I’m being chaste, therefore the Church must be my matchmaker. I’m not using birth control, so the Church must be my nanny. I’m fighting a culture war, so the Church must provide me with beautiful liturgy, better music, and fine art.

The Church is Christ’s body on earth, and as such, it doesn’t really owe any of us anything.

On the contrary, we owe Christ and his body on earth good marriages strengthened over time by our individual and gradual perfection in virtue; we owe him fidelity even at the times when being faithful causes us suffering; we owe him the best music, art and liturgy we can provide because it’s balm for a suffering body, not necessarily because bad art is an affront to me, personally.


Jenny said...

I have so many different thoughts around this topic. On an intellectual level, I agree with Elizabeth's piece. It is true that the Church doesn't really owe us anything and we owe the Church everything. Especially with young children in the house, it is a hard adjustment to expectations to go from being served to serving. I have many times been exasperated wondering why in the world I was the one doing X? Why hasn't someone else done X for me? This should have already been done and not by me. Growing up is hard. :)

However I do have to mildly disagree when she says, "Who can do more for the Parish than they’re already doing? We’re all doing the best we can." At least in my parish, that just isn't true. We have 600 families registered in the parish and it is the same 2-3 dozen people who do everything. I get very frustrated with all the other people who just show up for Mass on Sunday and that's it. If these people would just put out a minimal effort, there could be vibrant lay ministries, but they don't and there aren't. I fully recognize that my frustrations are partially my problem by again making mental demands on other people to serve me.

One of the comments on the piece I think sums up the main problem: "I think that what Calah is seeking is actually community and friendships, and the support that those things provide. Too many people only show up for Mass, and have no other connections with parish people except on Sundays. It’s not the church’s job to create *programs* to build those relationships — but we do need to create a parish *culture* that makes connection a priority among followers of Christ."

This sounds so true to me, but I do not know how to make it happen.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I agree with you.

I hear people complain there aren't enough youth activities or the faith formation classes for kids don't go very deep. They don't realize that they can be the ones to organize activities or teach classes or teach their children the faith at home.

entropy said...

It's the same in our parish, the same people do everything. It's easy to say if only those other people did more, and I have said it too, but what I've found is that those other people usually are doing more, just not with the Church's activities. They are caring for sick family or coaching softball or getting their family involved in community theater or volunteering at a women's shelter.

I'm one of those people that aren't "doing more" at Church anymore. I've got other stuff going on and I just don't think I can right now.

Darwin said...

In my personal experience, it seems like not only is it the same 20-30 people who run all the events and ministries at a parish, but it's also the same 100 people from whom attendance at all events draws (out of a parish with gives times or more that many families.) The result is that even when new events or ministries are kicked off, they're often poorly attended and after a while the organizers start sending out little notes to their parish email lists complaining that no one is coming to this desperately needed ministry.

Some of this, I expect, is a matter of people being less involved than they ought in Catholic life outside of mass, but I think a lot of is that what is most needed is not formal organized social activities, in many cases, but rather networks of friends with whom one spends time more informally.

bearing said...

...networks of friends....

Yeah. When I read these kinds of things, I am tempted to suggest to people who feel isolated that they try to make friends, one family at a time.

Many of the needs that I hear people wanting from their church, we fill with only a couple of close friend-families. We're a little insular, I guess, but that's where I get and give homeschooling support, meals when there's a new baby or a funeral, short-notice babysitting, an emergency contact for the kids' activity forms, invitees to informal birthday parties and holiday dinners when we can't travel to be with extended family.

I am not really much of a joiner and have trouble with those sort of medium-strength ties that you get at church when you chat in a friendly way over coffee every Sunday but rarely do anything else together. I can do totally superficial all right, and I can do deep friendship (to my surprise), but the stuff in the middle is tricky for me. I tend to avoid it. It makes me hyperventilate.

Enbrethiliel said...


I go to Mass and that's it. Parish people who want to be friends freak me out a little.

While I agree in theory that there need to be more connections among members of a parish (and in practice, have never turned people in my parish down when they asked me to do something social . . . as long as it was also short-term =P), most calls to serve one's parish more actively strike me as calls to serve the emotional needs of more extroverted parishioners more actively.

JMB said...

It's the same people who do everything at the parish, who were probably the same people who do everything at the school, and as teenagers, probably ran the student council and did everything there as well. Some people are "institutional" people. They like committees, they like being in charge. They like organizing stuff and people. I'm thinking of the movie "Election" with Reese Witherspoon.

I like my parish and I enjoy going there but I'd rather hang with my neighbors and friends than with a bunch of semi strangers at Mass. It's not like the old days when a parish was the identity of an ethnic group - I think of my dad who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and his parish was his family's social life. Everything involved around the parish, but then again, all the parishioners lived in little apartments and most of their lives were lived outside of the home. It's not like that anymore. Rather than constantly talk about what the parish is not, I think we have to focus on what it is today, in today's world.

Jenny said...

I don't know where everyone else lives, but I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt and grew up here. Catholics make up maybe 5% of the population.

I can tell you with knowledge that the Protestants don't have this problem of having the vast majority of their members being virtual strangers in their own churches. They aren't all extroverts or have no lives outside church. They are involved in sports, and extra-curriculars, and schools. They don't all live in apartments within walking distance of the church building. They do prioritize keeping a social connection with their church family.

For whatever reason, Catholics do not prioritize getting to know their fellow parishioners. I find it scandalous that one could attend a parish for twenty years and still only have a vague idea of what the name of the person in the pew in front of you is. But it happens.

Given this situation, when you have a young mother who is overwhelmed with her young children such that the church is really her only social outlet, she is left hanging. How do you make friends or acquaintances with like-mined people when tumbleweeds are rolling in the lobby five minutes after Mass lets out?

BettyDuffy said...

Jenny, I've been thinking about your question, and my guess is, the people who might be able to help on the Parish level have no idea what the needs are. Have you introduced yourself to the DRE or visited an altar society meeting?

It IS scandalous when people worshiping in the same pews don't know each other's names after many years. But someone must extend the first hand.

I was bowled over at our Parish, when on our first visit to Mass an older woman came up and introduced herself, and I've often wished for the courage to do the same, when I've seen unfamiliar faces.

Part of being newbies in a small town for us was this paranoia that everyone else here already knew each other, and I'm only just now, seven years later, beginning to realize that even if they know everyone else, they don't know me. I have nothing to lose by introducing myself.

Also, I know what you're talking about in Evangelical churches, and one of the things I KNOW they do, because a lot of my family is evangelical--is they give everyone a job right away. That's part of how they boost membership is by identifying individual gifts, and providing opportunities to use them. On one hand, it's great to get everyone involved. On another hand, that means, even the mom with lots of kids has a gift that the CHurch needs.

Either way, as I see it, if you want Church involvement in your life, the only way to get it, is to get involved in the life of the Church.

Rosebud said...

" I was bowled over at our Parish, when on our first visit to Mass an older woman came up and introduced herself, and I've often wished for the courage to do the same, when I've seen unfamiliar faces."

Oh my! That would send me running from the parish in terror! I hate parishes where they ask visitors to stand or well-intentioned people stop you outside of church to "get to know you". It's bad enough when we're driving through on vacation. It's even worse when it's a parish you attend on an irregular basis. Please allow me to crawl under my humiliated rock and avoid all chit-chat. I'd rather be able to attend Mass, smile nicely at all those around me, and leave without a fuss.
However, after several years at our parish, we now have many friends and people who are dear to us. But the relationship took time -watching my children grow, watching the regular attendees marry, have children, reach milestones - all those things allowed our lives to intertwine in a way that coffee and donuts after Mass never will. And, as time went on, we slowly got involved in ministries and extracurricular activities.

Betty Duffy was right on the mark - there is no one-size-fits-all. What I consider overwhelming and pushy, others would call warm and welcoming. and a slow, gradual entering to the parish community that is comfortable to me others would consider cold, uninviting, or hostile.

Jenny said...

"Either way, as I see it, if you want Church involvement in your life, the only way to get it, is to get involved in the life of the Church."

I absolutely agree here. I only wonder why so few seem interested in getting involved. Now I'm not suggesting we go all Evangelical. I know there is a lot of social pressure there to maintain appearances and the like. I also know that are people who are hermit-like and would rather be left alone. And that's fine, but there is vast room between those extremes.

As for myself, I am actually the vice-president for the ladies guild at my parish which would be hilarious to you if you knew me IRL. I am not outgoing or extroverted. I do not make friends easily and definitely didn't do student council in school. I have always been haunted by the notion that everyone already knows each other and I am the awkward third wheel--(all yall bloggers know each other, right?). So how did such a thing happen to me?

I work full-time managing a database which requires tons of screen time and little human interaction (yay blogs!) and also have a horrible commute that gives me several hours in the car by myself a day. I get home at night in time to have supper with the family, get everyone ready for bed and then crash myself. We would go to church on Sunday and still had no real contact with anyone outside our house. I was losing my mind.

I screwed on my courage and decided to start going to the ladies guild meetings once a month. Not exactly my age cohort, most of them are old enough to be my mother. I don't consider these ladies really friends, but friendly acquaintances. I do know that if my family had a crisis, I would have them as a resource from which to draw. And it is nice to have congenial contact on Sundays from people who actually know my name and my children are kinda their mascots.

So for me this is decent stopgap measure, but I look around and wonder why things are the way they are.

Banshee said...

When you have over 100 people in a social group, the group immediately switches over from distributism to having the same few people be the leaders and talkers.

Almost all Catholic US parishes have over 100 people.